It has been an incredibly challenging year, but with every challenge comes new adaptations. This year due to the pandemic, we were not able to celebrate California Wildlife Day (CWD) 2020 in person. Though our event was cancelled, we were still able to honor the student science, art, and poetry celebrating California animals and the environments they live in through social media and our website’s digital gallery. As we look forward to 2021, we are excited to announce California Wildlife Day Virtual Celebration March 20-21, 2021. We hope that in 2022 we can return to our regular in-person event.
With the new technologies and online platforms available, we are bringing speakers, student art, and environmental activities to the digital space where we welcome all to join in and celebrate. Our dedicated team is working hard on the creation of this event and will share new information and updates when they become available on our California Wildlife Day website.
This year we are excited to open up student submissions again. Last year’s submissions will continue to be honored as we also welcome new science posters, art projects, and poetry submissions. For more information, follow these links to the Art and Poetry guidelines, and Scientific Poster submission information. We will also be working with several partner organizations across the state and will post any links to their CWD celebrations on our website as well.
Following a particularly active wildfire season in Monterey County, CWD 2021 will also focus on topics such as wildfire impacts to wildlife, efforts in Monterey County around wildfire prevention and planning, and how to maintain your property against wildfire while protecting native habitat.
The end of October 2020 marked the completion of the first iteration of the Carmel River Watershed health report card. The report card summarizes the conditions and trends of several watershed health indicators including water chemistry, steelhead counts, aquatic habitat barrier density, and streamflow patterns. Each indicator’s condition is based on a scale of zero to 100 and may be used for prioritizing and gauging the efficacy of management and restoration activities within the watershed.
Several low-scoring areas have already been flagged as priorities for management in the 2020 Carmel River Task Force Action Plan. Projects such as aquatic habitat barrier removals and steelhead rescues are addressing steelhead recovery and watershed connectivity issues throughout the watershed. Future projects such as the Carmel River FREE project will enhance river-floodplain connectivity in the lower watershed, while forbearance agreements and off-stream water storage are anticipated to increase in-stream flows during summer months. As these and other management strategies are implemented, updates to the report card every two years should capture the effects of these activities and reflect improvements to watershed health through higher scores for each indicator’s condition.
The next iteration of the report card will incorporate suggestions from members of the CRTF, the most recent data available for current indicators, and new indicators that could not be included in the first iteration. These indicators will include wildfire regime, spread of invasive vegetation and aquatic species, population dynamics of endangered species like the California red-legged frog, and lagoon water levels and water quality. This first iteration of the report card provides a preliminary indication of watershed health and underscores the necessity for several current and planned management activities and restoration projects. The addition of indicators in the next iteration will provide a more holistic assessment of watershed health.
The Carmel River Watershed Conservancy (CRWC) and other area groups are working on several wildfire prevention and planning initiatives after an unprecedented wildfire season in California and in Monterey County.
The CAL FIRE California Climate Investments Program recently granted nearly $1 million in funds to the Fire Safe Council for Monterey County for fuel reduction, and approximately $4.8 million to the Resource Conservation District of Monterey County (RCDMC) to reduce fuel around County homes, maintain strategic fuelbreaks, increase forest and vegetation community resiliency, and control invasive plant species.
CRWC continues to work with a coalition of local stakeholders, including RCDMC’s Forest Health Coordinator, to prevent wildfire spread and plan evacuation routes. This work includes another grant proposal, spearheaded by RCDMC, which would fund strategic fuelbreak work in Carmel Valley.
CRWC has also applied for a Community Foundation for Monterey County grant to fund the addition of a Fire Regime indicator to its new Watershed Health Report Card. This indicator would track historical fire patterns to help prevent more intense and frequent wildfires through fire disrupting vegetation and modeling. The report card will also monitor the impacts of wildfire on watershed health over time. California Wildlife Day 2021 will include a special focus on wildfire impacts to wildlife and strategies for property owners who are interested in protecting their land and structures while protecting native habitat. For more information on on best management practices, please visit the Santa Lucia Conservancy invasive plant guide.
The Cypress Fire Protection District also continues to work with HOAs in its districts by supplying matching grant funds to support the reduction of fuel. Other Carmel Valley neighborhoods are exploring early warning systems, such as infrared imaging and satellites, in order to prevent wildfire spread.
The Office of Emergency Services is heading up emergency evacuation planning in the County later this year, and CRWC will be part of public review of the Carmel Valley zone.
Many of you readers have followed for decades the reports of “solutions” to the problems caused by the barrier beach and periodic flooding of the homes along the Lagoon. A Draft EIR stalled since early 2017, caused mostly by County budget shortfalls, has further delayed progress on solutions. Recently, however, hope has been rekindled by the County’s decision to provide funding to complete the EIR process, boosted by a $100k funding contribution from the County Service Area 1 (Carmel Point). The hiring of a new project leader (Shandy Carroll) and the creation of a Lagoon Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) have further boosted our hopes for a long-term solution. Ms. Carroll has the technical and project management expertise along with her new team to develop a much more realistic EIR, which will contain recommendations to manage the barrier beach (to avoid flooding) as well as protect the Scenic Road and the bluffs along Carmel River State Beach. Ms. Carroll issues monthly project updates and has plans to encourage community involvement in the EIR completion process. CRWC will be working collaboratively to expedite this EIR process and to ensure that a viable long term solution is developed and certified by the County Board of Supervisors.
DURING THE 2020 SEASON, THE CARMEL RIVER STEELHEAD ASSOCIATION RESCUED 12,182 FISH, OF WHICH 2,631 WERE OVER 1 YEARS OLD.
Janet Kung’s major at MIIS is international environmental policy with a specialization in Ocean and Coastal Resource Management. She is originally from Taiwan and grew up on the coast — surfing, fishing, and spending time with family. This outdoor time taught her to feel gratitude toward mother nature.
Janet received a B.A. in environmental literature and has worked as a program coordinator for a sea turtle conservation organization in Costa Rica. This experience reaffirmed her goal to pursue a career in ocean conservation. Science communication particularly fascinated her, leading her to intern with Carmel River Watershed Conservancy. She enjoys translating data from local agencies into digestible content for the public.
Janet recalls her favorite moment working with school children on the Carmel River: “My favorite activity was taking a trip to Garland to show children different kinds of invertebrates, and teach them about water quality and food sources for steelhead trout. My favorite memory was when a third-grade girl found a big stonefly under a rock in the river. She got scared and started crying. I explained to her the importance of the stonefly to the watershed and she realized she found something cool for everyone to see. I saw a sense of pride and wonder on her face. Seeing that change in perspective touched my heart deeply.”
When Janet isn’t working with the Conservancy or studying for class, her all-time favorite coastal watershed activity is surfing. The Carmel Beach provides one of the fastest and best rides on the peninsula. “I will do anything to ensure that this beautiful environment is protected,” says Janet.
CSUMB students immerse themselves in fieldwork on the Carmel River
Mikaela Bogdan, CRWC intern and CSU Monterey Bay graduate student, is taking on a new initiative to measure the health of the Carmel River Watershed. The initiative was begun in early 2020 by John Wandke, also a CSUMB graduate student and employee of RANA Nursery. The goal is to create a Watershed Report Card that provides a score of overall watershed conditions by analyzing data on certain indicators of watershed health, including invasive species ( French broom, acacia, striped bass and New Zealand mud snails), benthic macroinvertebrates, and water quality and quantity. This measuring system will be adapted from several existing methods for indexing and assessing watershed health including the California Stream Condition Index and Proper Functioning Condition assessments. It will translate complex biological, hydrologic, vegetative, and geomorphic data into a measure of overall system health. The result will be a score for several important watershed health indicators within the Carmel River Watershed.
The project is still in the early stages. Funding is provided by the Carmel River Watershed Conservancy and an opportunity grant from the Community Foundation for Monterey County. Mikaela expects the project to include several local agencies, such as the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, the Carmel River Steelhead Association and Trout Unlimited. The final report will be an easily digestible summary of our watershed health, targeted toward policy makers, resource managers, educators, funders and the general public.
With continued funding from CRWC, this project is expected to continue indefinitely with the intention of improving the accuracy of the score as well as providing data for indicators that have not been as well studied. For indicators that may score poorly, this project will bring comprehensive monitoring and management to enhance conservation efforts.
Photo shows where the Carmel River flows into the Pacific Ocean at the Carmel River Lagoon. (Photo from Lorin Letendre)
Progress at Last! Earlier this year the County approved funds of $450,000 to resume the preparation of a Revised EIR for the Carmel River Lagoon and Scenic Road Protection. This included a contribution of $100,000 from the County service Area-1 (Carmel Point) earmarked for the Scenic Road Project. Subsequently the County Resource Management Agency (RMA) hired Management Analyst Shandy Carroll to lead the team working on this new round of environmental work along with Denise Duffy & Associates (DDA). Ms. Carroll holds a master’s degree in Marine Science and Physical Oceanography from CSUMB and previously served the County as an Agricultural Resource and Policy Manager. The Conservancy applauds this new hire and looks forward to working with Ms. Carroll on solutions for the barrier beach and bluff erosion issues.
Photo shows erosion along Scenic Road, overlooking Carmel State Beach (photo from Lorin Letendre)
What do you do with your expired or leftover pharmaceuticals? Do you throw them away? Flush them down the drain or toilet? The answer is neither. Monterey County offers a safe and easy alternative for medicine disposal with 16 Pharmaceutical Take-Back Sites. These Take-Back locations accept a variety of items including:
● Prescription drugs
● Over the-counter drugs
● Pet medications
● Medicated ointments
● Controlled substances are accepted at specified locations
● Sharps (i.e. needles) are accepted at specified locations
It is critical to the health of our watershed and our community to safely dispose of these medicines. When pharmaceuticals are flushed down the drain, those chemicals enter the watershed and can be harmful for wildlife. While waste treatment systems are equipped to remove a vast majority of chemicals and make the water safe for human consumption, the remaining chemicals can enter the water and bioaccumulate in living species. When pharmaceuticals are thrown away with the rest of the trash, they could eventually impact groundwater as lined landfills age. Pharmaceuticals can cause harmful effects in fish, deer, birds and other animals that rely on the watershed.
When it comes time to dispose of your pharmaceuticals, please consider taking them to a certified Take-Back Location. These take-back locations help the community safely dispose of expired or unused medications at no cost to those bringing in the items. You can help protect our watershed! Here is a list of the certified Pharmaceutical Take-Back Locations in Monterey County. CRWC is responsible for setting up three of the locations (Carmel-by-the-Sea and Pacific Grove police departments and the Pebble Beach Community Services District fire station). Please check out this link for more information, as well as the take-back locations listed in Spanish.
Watershed Education Director Marie Butcher with a group of school students on a field trip
The Carmel River Watershed Conservancy (CRWC) team was able to reach over 350 children at 10 schools in the 2019-20 school year despite a shift to online learning late in the spring semester. Its newest addition was the Chartwell School, a school for children with language-based learning differences. CRWC is also expanding its outreach to schools in underserved areas such as Salinas and Seaside.
Illeana Alexander and Janet Kung, CRWC’s watershed education interns studying at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, had a blast visiting classrooms and doing hands-on activities with the kids. This included having the students make their own watersheds and learn about different animal track patterns. Janet and Marie Butcher, CRWC’s Watershed Conservancy Outreach Coordinator, and our wonderful volunteers, took students to Garland Ranch and the Palo Corona Regional Parks for outdoor field trips. During those trips, they identified insects and birds and learned more about the watershed they live in, including the lifecycle of the threatened steelhead.
California Wildlife Day 2020 was cancelled amongst Covid-19 social distancing measures, but all the students’ hard work and beautiful submissions are still being honored. We have an exceptional array of poetry, watercolors, science posters, and unique 3D projects – all displayed on our Digital Gallery. We encourage you to browse this year’s fine talent!
The Carmel River Watershed Conservancy and the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District are working together to display the student artwork at the Discovery Center once the County’s shelter-in-place order is lifted. The team will also be judging the top artwork and awarding prizes to the winners.